Great Masters

  • Sera Khandro: A Reader's Guide

    Sera KhandroSera Khandro (1892 - 1940), also known as Kunzang Dekyong Wagmo,  was one of the great masters of the early 20th century and the English speaking world is fortunate now that both her story and her writings have been emerging more and more over the past few years.

    Her story is at once fascinating, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting.

    Tulku Thondup Rinpoche, in his remarkable Incarnation: The History and Mysticism of the Tulku Tradition of Tibet gives a superb overview:

    "This great yogini was known as a tulku of Yeshe Tsogyal, the consort of Guru Rinpoche and many others. She is an exemplar, similar to many tulkus who pursued the missions of their incarnation from childhood, even when it seemed almost impossible to succeed. Throughout her childhood and teenage years, and even into adulthood, she received transmissions and prophesies in many pure visions of wisdom dakinis and adepts. Sera Khandro Dewe Dorje was born as a beautiful princess in a rich and influential noble family in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. While she was still in her early teens, her father arranged her future marriage. The princess strongly wished to dedicate her life fully to Dharma, and she vehemently opposed the marriage arrangement. Finally, after attempting to commit suicide, she successfully undid the arranged engagement. One day, a group of rugged nomad pilgrims from Golok province arrived in Lhasa, after many months on the harsh trail. By chance, they camped on the compound of Sera Khandro Dewe Dorje’s family palace. Through a window, the young princess looked down on the compound and glimpsed Tulku Drime Ozer (1881–1924), the leader of the pilgrims. She instantly felt an immense devotion to the tulku, and from that point forward, he became the innate symbol of her spiritual direction.

    "Before long, the time came for the pilgrims to return to their home. The fourteen year old princess renounced her possessions and made a dangerous escape in order follow the pilgrims. From that day forth, Sera Khandro Dewe Dorje’s life changed drastically. She had to learn how to beg for food to survive. Her fancy clothes gave her little protection when crossing the harsh terrain of the high northern plateaus of Tibet. And her fancy, flimsy shoes gave up on her. The young princess had to keep up with the caravan by walking and running barefoot month after month with little or sometimes no food. Because of their ignorance and prejudice, no pilgrim would extend any support or protection to the princess. She hardly had any opportunity to exchange words with the tulku, as he was always strictly guarded. But she used all of these difficult circumstances to invigorate her spiritual dedication.

    "The party finally reached their home in Golok, and even there Sera Khandro Dewe Dorje endured harsh treatment from wild and jealous nomads. For over a decade she survived by taking on the lowly job of caring for the animals of nomad families. Despite these hardships, she didn’t once consider returning to the luxuries of her home in Lhasa. And during this time, she continuously received transmissions and prophesies in pure visions, enjoying the highest spiritual ecstasies with total dedication to serving the dharma and the lineage of Guru Rinpoche — the sole mission of her reincarnation.

    "At the age of thirty, Sera Khandro Dewe Dorje became the consort of Tulku Drime Ozer. For the last few years of Tulku Drime’s life, the two of them discovered many ters (the mystical revelations of esoteric teachings) together. Sera Khandro Dewe Dorje also wrote a number of scholarly texts and became a highly respected teacher of esoteric Dharma, with many mystic followers."

    Tulku Drime Ozer was the son of Dudjom Lingpa (and brother of the third Dodrubchen Rinpoche) and his tulku was Thinley Norbu Rinpoche.

    Tulku Thondup also discusses Sera Khandro in several places in his classic Masters of Meditation and Miracles.

    Sera KhandroThe most comprehensive treatment of Sera Khandro to date is Sarah Jacoby's Love and Liberation: Autobiographical Writings of the Tibetan Buddhist Visionary Sera Khandro.  This is an academic work, though of great value for anyone interested in this amazing master's life and work.

    An excerpt from Love and Liberation can be found on the Yogini Project website.  

    For a concise biography see the entry at the Treasury of Lives.

    She is also discussed in Wisdom Nectar: Dudjom Rinpoche's Heart Advice  and The Light of Fearless Indestructible Wisdom: The Life and Legacy of HH Dudjom Rinpoche.

    Sera Khandro's Works

    The most significant full work of Sera Khandro's in English is Refining Our Perception of Reality: Sera Khandro's Commentary on Dudjom Lingpa's Account of His Visionary Journey.

    This book contains four Tibetan texts in translation. First, The Excellent Path to Liberation explains how to give our attention to the teachings, and how to ground our spiritual practice in harmonious relationships with others and the world at large.

    Second, Dudjom Lingpa’s account of his visionary journey, Nangjang, Enlightenment without Meditation, translated elsewhere as Buddhahood without Meditation, teaches by example that as practitioners we should ask ourselves sincere questions concerning our perception of reality, and that we should not be content with superficial answers.

    In the third text, Sera Khandro presents Dudjom Lingpa’s work within two frameworks. She first clarifies the view on which the spiritual path is founded, the path of meditation; the ensuing conduct that reflects and enriches meditative experience; and the path’s result—awakening and enlightenment. Next she illuminates the subtleties of the great perfection view, the four tantric bonds: nonexistence, a single nature, pervasive insubstantial evenness, and spontaneous presence.

    This volume also includes a significant fourth text: a short autobiography of Sera Khandro, translated by Chatral Rinpoché’s disciple-translator Christina Monson.

    Please note that Chatral Rinpoche requested that people only read this book if they have completed ngondro, the preliminary practices, of any Vajrayana tradition.  To try to maintain visibility of this requirement, this volume is only available from shambhala.com.

    Termas

    Sera Khandro's termas are included in four volumes, only a portion of which have been translated into English.

    One of the termas she discovered was The Immaculate White Lotus: The Life of the Master from Oddiyana by Dorjé Tso, one of Guru Rinpoche's consorts who Sera Khandro is considered an incarnation of This come from the treasure cycle called The Dakini’s Secret Treasury of the Nature of Reality that was concealed by Guru Rinpoche.  It is ten short chapters that fill 17 pages in English.

    This appears in Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, a collection of biographies of Padmasambhava.

    Note that the translator of this book referred to  her birth year was 1899 and the discovery of this text as 1927 (she wrote she discovered it when she was 27), but the consensus now puts her birth year at 1892.  So this was likely discovered around 1920.

    This treasure is still popular in eastern Tibet, where she spent most of her life.

    Additional Resources

    For additional works available in English, see her page on Lotsawa House.

    Christina Monson translated some additional material including The Excellent Path of Devotion: An Abridged Story of a Mendicant's Experiences in Response to Questions by Vajra Kin that was privately published and may prove tricky to find.

    For her works in Tibetan, see the TBRC site, currently listing 19 works.

    Sera Khandro's Legacy

    Sera Khandro's legacy remains firm today.  There are several teachers who hold the lineage.

    Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche was the main conduit to our generation. He received the lineage directly from her.  He passed it on, to among others, to his daughter, Saraswati (pictures, far right), who is considered to be the incarnation of Sera Khandro.  Saraswati has undergone extensive training under her late father’s guidance.

    Chatral Rinpoche also passed on  pith instructions from Sera Khandro's guru sadhanas, Dzogchen practices, and Chenrezig sadhanas she revealed to Dudjom Rinpoche as is recounted in The Light of Fearless Indestructible Wisdom: The Life and Legacy of HH Dudjom Rinpoche.

    Sera Khandro Lineage

    From Chatral Rinpoche's Compassionate Action. Note, the dates are no longer considered correct.

    Sera Khandro comes up repeatedly in Holly Gayley's account of the 20th century terton couple in Inseparable Across Lifetimes: The Lives and Love Letters of the Tibetan Visionaries Namtrul Rinpocheand Khandro Tare Lhamo.  Khandro Tare Lhamo is considered an emanation of Sera Khandro (recognized as such by Dudjom Rinpoche, among others) and there are aspects of her life that mirror Sera Khandro's.  For those interested in Sera Khandro, this account is essential as it demonstrates her legacy in eastern Tibet, as well as show all the connections to the present day, in particular through the Dudjom lineage.

    Namtrul and Khandro Tare Lhamo

    Namtrul Rinpoche and Khandro Tare Lhamo, an incarnation of Sera Khandro

  • Dudjom Rinpoche's Interview about Guru Padmasambhava

    The following article appeared in Volume 5 (Winter, 1976) of the Shambhala Review of Books and Ideas, a magazine that was part of Shambhala Publications (unaffiliated with Shambhala International or the Shambhala Sun), a magazine that ran a few issues in the mid 1970's.

    Tibetan Buddhism, Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje (1904–1987)

    This interview with Dudjom Rinpoche was conducted by Shambhala Publications' staff with the assistance of Tulku Sogyal who was present at the time.

    For more information, see our Dudjom Rinpoche's author page for articles, videos, books, and more.  Additionally, our Reader’s Guide: Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje is a wonderful support to guide you through his numerous works.

    Shambhala Review of Books and Ideas

    Magazine  Volume 5 (Winter, 1976)

    A Guru for Turbulent Times

    PADMASAMBHAVA

    An Interview with His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche

    His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje, is one of the greatest living scholars and tantric masters of Tibetan Buddhism today. His Holiness was born in 1904 in the province of Pemakod in southeastern Tibet and was recognized as the reincarnation of the great Tibetan master and yogi Dudjom Lingpa, who was famous for his discovery of many secret texts which bad been hidden away many centuries before by Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism in the eighth century. He is also the reincarnation of Shariputra, the disciple of the Shakyamuni Buddha and the reincarnation of Khyeuchung Lotsawa, one of the original twenty-five disciples of Guru Padmasambhava. His Holiness is recognized by the Tibetan community as the Guru Rinpoche of our time.

    Nyingmapa is the oldest and original school of Tibetan Buddhism. The name itself means "The Ancient Ones." This School has preserved through an unbroken lineage the highest tantric teachings of the Buddha. These teachings known as Dzogchen or Ati Yoga deal directly with the original nature of mind, and through their practice one can attain liberation in the course of a single lifetime. Dzogchen is transmitted through an oral tradition. His Holiness is the supreme holder of these teachings.

    Tulku Sogyal Rinpoche was trained in the Buddhist tradition of Tibet by some of Tibet's greatest lamas and was raised as a son by the great Jamyang Khyentse. Rinpoche was educated at Cambridge and founded a Dharma center in England. Recently he has been traveling with His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche as interpreter and aide.


    His Holiness is recognized by the Tibetan community as the Guru Rinpoche of our time.

    Related Books

    The Interview with Dudjom Rinpoche

    Shambhala Publications Staff: I would appreciate your talking about the Dzogchen (rDzog-cben) teachings, or what is known as Ati yoga. Could we begin with some historical background? Does any of the Dzogchen teachings predate Buddhism?

    Dudjom Rinpoche: The Buddhist teachings that we know in this age were given to us by Buddha Shakya­muni, the historical Buddha. This is the Buddha­dharma period of Buddha Shakyamuni. However, in actual fact, the Dzogchen teachings originate from Samantabhadra Dharmakaya. They have existed from time immemorial. According to the Dzogchen lineage, there are twelve teachers, or twelve Buddhas. Buddha Shakyamuni is one of these twelve; he was the last to appear.

    Sogyal Rinpoche: So in a sense, these teachings do predate the Buddhism that is known today.

    Dudjom Rinpoche: Dzogchen teachings have, from time immemorial, been in the Dharmakaya and have been directly transmitted to the Sambhogakaya Buddhas, who have been continuously teaching in the Sambhogakaya field of timeless time. So therefore Dzogchen goes beyond historical time.

    How are these teachings transmitted?

    Dudjom Rinpoche: In the Dharmakaya field, the teaching is given directly (dGong,rGyud); it is "mind-direct" transmission. Whereas in the Sambhogakaya field the trans­mission is through signs (brDa-rGyud).

    (Note: In the Nirmanakaya field the transmission is oral (sNyan rGyud).

    And in the Nirmanakaya state?

    Dudjom Rinpoche: The twelve Buddhas that we mentioned before and who belong to the Dzogchen lineage have appeared in the Nirmanakaya state, or field. It is the state of manifestation. From the very beginning of time till now, twelve Buddhas of the Dzogchen lineage have appeared in the different spheres according to the needs of beings. However, the one known to us is Buddha Shakyamuni who was the last in the line.


    The uniqueness of Dzogchen is that if one can take the teachings to heart, it guarantees complete liberation in this lifetime and in this body.

     

    Are these different states or "Kayas" accomplishable in this lifetime?

    Dudjom Rinpoche: The "mind-direct" transmission is in the Dharmakaya, the samadhi state, out of which all sphere and states evolve; there are twenty-five different levels. We are on the thirteenth level, or path of the Buddhadharma. These concepts are very difficult.

    And these different states can be attained during this lifetime?

    Dudjom Rinpoche: Certainly. (Laughs) That is what Dzogchen is all about. Dzogchen has actualized this. In the present dharma of Buddha Shakyamuni there are two teachings: the Sutrayana, the causal vehicle, and the secret Mantrayana, called the resultant vehicle. Buddha Shakyamuni himself prophesied before his Parinirvana that one would come who was even greater than himself. This prophesy was fulfilled in the person of Guru Padmasambhava. He came to reveal the secret dharma teachings of Mantrayana that Buddha Shakyamuni had not fully made known. Therefore, the basis and the whole of secret Mantrayana really evolved specifically through Guru Padmasambhava.

    In what way do the teachings differ from one another?

    Dudjom Rinpoche: It takes many, many lifetimes of accumulating merit and removing defilements to attain enlightenment through the Hinayana. Even attaining bDag-med (the realization of egoless mind, liberation from samsara, or cessation of suffering), let alone enlightenment, takes many, many lives on the Hinayana path. According to the Mahayana path, one has to spend three kalpas accumulating merit and three more removing defilements. According to the secret Mantrayana path, one can reach enlightenment in seven to sixteen lifetimes. However, the uniqueness of Dzogchen is that if one can take the teachings to heart, it guarantees complete liberation in this lifetime and in this body. And if one misses the chance in this lifetime, then one can gain enlightenment in the bardo state and if not in the bardo state, then in the next lifetime. But enlightenment is completely and fully guaranteed in seven lifetimes.

    Seven lifetimes or seven thousand miles! (Laughter)

    Sogyal Rinpoche: Yes! The crucial point is that you must keep the samaya pledges of the Dzogchen teachings in this lifetime. This in itself will elevate you to a fuller spiritual development in the next life. Thus, in each successive lifetime, you will become more spiritually developed than in the previous one until ultimately you are fully enlightened: This depends on not breaking the samaya pledges.

    What are the samaya pledges?

    Dudjom Rinpoche: Samaya, or Damt-shig, are, briefly, pledges that one must keep and abide by. They are a way of taking the teachings to heart. They are mainly the body, speech, and mind pledges.


    ...in this turbulent period, whatever one does is speeded up. Karma keeps pace with the twentieth century and Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) keeps pace with it also.

     

    Are the pledges hard to keep?

    Dudjom Rinpoche: There are so many Damt-shig, but if one were truly devoted, then keeping them is not difficult. On the other hand, if one is lazy and naive and does not have a strong mind, then keeping the pledges would be difficult. So it is very much up to oneself whether one makes it difficult or easy. Whether one keeps them or not depends on devotion (Dad pa), industry (brTson bGus), and wisdom (Shes rab).

    In Hinayana, are most of these pledges for monks?

    Dudjom Rinpoche: Even in the Hinayana there are lay devotees who keep the basic precepts. They are known as dGe,sNyan, which means those who cultivate good and virtuous dharmas; they are those who are cultivat­ing the four various levels of dGe,Nyan. You must remember that in Hinayana the stress is on conduct and on the absolute renunciation of samsara. This includes the home and marriage. From Mahayana on­wards, there is more flexibility of conduct and a greater breadth of mind, a quality of openness. In Hinayana, the view is less encompassing and the actions are more restricted.

    How does one go about practicing the Dzogchen teachings?

    Dudjom Rinpoche: Dzogchen teachings concerning the View, Meditation, and Action can only be granted and realized through the personal guidance of a qualified lama.

    Is this the reason these teachings are kept secret?

    Dudjom Rinpoche: These teachings will not be made public. The teachings can only take place if there are really serious devotees who take the teachings to heart and accept the personal guidance of a teacher. In these spiritually degenerate times, secret Mantrayana teachings are being publicly revealed; it is not realized that these teachings, especially the Ati yoga teachings, are under the protection of the Dharmapala like Ekajati. These teachings consist of rbyud (tantra), Lung (oral transmission), and Man-nGag (secret instruction and guidance). The untimely revelation of such powerful teachings would incur the wrath of these Dharmapala, which would have an adverse effect not only on the revelator but those who took part in receiving them. Misfortunes might befall them.

    Ekajati?

    Dudjom Rinpoche: Yes. Ekajati is the sole protector of the Dzogchen teachings.

    Sogyal Rinpoche: It is important that they are transmitted person­ally under favorable auspices. On the other hand, secret Mantrayana teachings are self-secret. Even if you try to learn them by yourself you won't understand them, and what is even worse, you will misunderstand them. If correctly carried out, first the teacher examines the disciple, then the disciple, after careful consideration, accepts the teacher. This way, both can cope with each other. In a situation where the teacher, with discretion and wisdom, finds the disciples ready, then fine. Otherwise we break or impair the lineage of the teachings. Once we are initiated into a particular mandala, the samaya pledges bind us together with the lineage, almost creating a common and linked karma.


    ...putting it into  practice; this is samaya. All this can be done through devotion, industry, and wisdom.

    If one of us breaks a pledge, the others in the mandala are affected. It affects the life of the lama, his works, and the spiritual development of his followers; it affects the teaching. This is very, very important, and therefore samaya pledges should not be treated too lightly. You must look before you leap. It is important to  keep harmony within the vajra family, with one's vajra brothers and sisters, all followers of the Vajra­yana path, but particularly those of one's lama: people who received the initiation or the teachings together in one circle. We must not forget the pledges to the teaching and lineage itself. It is not just a mat­ter of receiving something but of putting it into  practice; this is samaya. All this can be done through devotion, industry, and wisdom.

    Dudjom Rinpoche: There are higher Dzogchen teachings of which one cannot even receive the oral transmission without empowerment, let alone permission to read them. For instance, when the word of the Buddha was translated from the Pali and Sanskrit texts into Tibetan, the Dzogchen teachings were not included because they did not dare to make them available to the general public. Dzogchen teachings were kept separate and were called "rNying ma 'i rGyud 'bum."

    Who taught them? Who were the teachers?

    Dudjom Rinpoche: The teaching came down from the Dharmakaya Samantabhadra to the Sambhogakaya Vajrasattva, to Nirmanakaya in the form of Garab Dorje (the first human teacher of the Dzogchen lineage). From Garab Dorje it was passed to Shir'a,scng-wa (Shri Singha) and then to Padmasambhava (the second Buddha) and so forth.


    He [Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava)is the Buddha of our time and cuts through our neuroses and skillfully relates the dharma to the frustrations of our age.

     

    In your opinion, what are the chances of Dzogchen taking root here in the United States?

    Dudjom Rinpoche and Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

    Dudjom Rinpoche: From my travels, I think the United States has the best possibilities. Of course, it is very much up to the people themselves. There seems to be, at the present time, a tremendous interest in this line of teaching. There seems to be quite a lot of devotion to Guru Padmasambhava. It depends on the Americans themselves. Their collective karma will play an important part in how they work with the teachings. If the American people work and really want this, if they follow it properly, then of course, the compassion and blessings of the Buddhas and lamas of the lineage would take effect.

    Sogyal Rinpoche: This particular era is very turbulent and every­thing is kind of gross, but it is exactly in this kind of field that Guru Padmasambhava's compassion and power works best. And another point is that in this turbulent period, whatever one does is speeded up. Karma keeps pace with the twentieth century and Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) keeps pace with it also. He is the Buddha of our time and cuts through our neuroses and skillfully relates the dharma to the frustrations of our age.

    Dudjom Rinpoche: Yes, this is so. He is the most direct of all the Buddhas in giving aid in this age.

    So, because of this speeding up, it is not only a very turbulent and degenerate time, but it is also an exceptional time for a great deal to be accomplished on the spiritual plane.

    Dudjom Rinpoche: That's up to the people. Guru Rinpoche said,

    "Time doesn't change, people change."

    If people really follow him and ask his help, he will respond, and under his compassion and grace, the secret Mantrayana teachings will continue, especially Ati yoga teachings and, for that matter, the entire Buddhadharma. There is hope.

    This is very interesting because America, or the United States, has been exposed to Buddhism under the form of Hinayana and Mahayana since the 1800's, but when we consider Tibetan Buddhism, it was-boom. You see, it came very quickly. Suddenly the Chinese took over Tibet, and many Tibetans fled and eventually come to the States to teach Buddhism. But all this happened in a relative­ly short period of time.

    Dudjom Rinpoche: It shows the karmic link that America has with the secret Mantrayana teachings of Guru Padmasambhava. (In other words, the Tibetan Buddhism, which is the secret Mantra-vajrayana, originates from the teachings of Guru Rinpoche. Guru Rinpoche was the first and sole consolidator and propagator of the Vajrayana teachings and practice.)


    Working skillfully on ourselves and not totally giving up our worldly goods leads quickly to attainment.

     

    If one felt this devotion to Guru Rinpoche, how would one begin to practice?

    Dudjom Rinpoche: We must put ourselves completely in his hands: our body, our speech, our mind. Complete reliance on him, following his teachings in practice, and directing his mantra are necessary as the basis of con­fidence and strength in the Vajrayana practice. (Guru Rinpoche's mantra can be made available to all. It is one mantra that can openly be revealed.) All this is true. The uniqueness of Guru Rinpoche's line is that we do not totally have to change our life style or take on the stricter precepts as is found in Hinayana. Working skillfully on ourselves and not totally giving up our worldly goods leads quickly to attainment.

    On behalf of the Shambhala Review of Books and Ideas we would like to thank you for granting this interview.

    For more information:

    Dudjom RinpocheDudjom Rinpoche, Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje (1904–1987) was a highly revered Buddhist meditation master and the leader of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. 

  • Tsongkhapa: A Guide to His Life and Works


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